- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Noah has developed into one of the best centers in the league.
Playing almost 40 minutes a night, Noah stuffs the box score in different categories every night. That was the case again Tuesday as Noah racked up his second career triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a 100-89 victory over the Celtics.
Noah isn't playing differently -- he's just playing better. His game is more complete than it's ever been.
"It kills you," Rivers said of Noah's expanding game. "Noah's terrific. He's such a great passer. At times without (Derrick) Rose, we really consider him their point guard. He makes their decisions, he bails them out. I bet 10 times in the first half with late (shot) clock, he flashes to the ball and makes a play, either by scoring or with his passing. He's just an extremely high IQ basketball player. I've said it for four years now, and it's getting higher and higher."
Noah was appreciative of the comments. He had a smile on his face and he admitted that the point guard title is one that suits him.
"I always tell everybody I'm a point center anyway," Noah said. "I always feel like I could pass the ball. I feel more comfortable with the offense, and we have a lot of people who can score the ball in different ways. (Luol Deng) is a great cutter, Carlos (Boozer) catches almost any pass. I can throw it almost anywhere and he'll catch it. I think it was a great team effort and we just got to keep it going."
The key with Noah has been that he plays with energy -- in that regard his game hasn't changed much at all since he came into the league. The difference is that he sets the tone on two levels now. His teammates feed off his energy, and the Bulls count on Noah to set up everyone else on the floor. He is the crossing guard for the Bulls' offense, the one who has to make crucial decisions with the ball on almost every possession.
"His skill set is very unique," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It gives you the opportunity to play through the elbows more and make it more of a cutting game. He was very effective with the pick and roll. He played with great energy. He made the team function well at both ends of the floor."
After such a terrible offensive performance Monday night in which the Bulls scored a season-low 71 points in a loss to the Grizzlies, Noah was the one who set the tone for his team early in the game.
"Jo plays hard," Bulls guard Nate Robinson said. "I feed off his energy every time I’m out there with him. He’s an energy guy. It’s just something a lot of coaches would love to have a guy like Jo. He had a hell of a game -- triple-double. I was teasing him in the game. I was like, 'Jo, you need to two more assists. Come on, man. Pass me the ball.' "
With Rose out and Richard Hamilton sidelined because of injury, it's Noah who has become an integral part of the offense, so much so that teammates were comparing his game to former NBA center Vlade Divac.
"(Noah) was amazing, man," Boozer said. "Great passer. He's probably the best passing big man in the league. Underrated, plays hard and got great court vision. Honestly, he's like a point forward for us because we run a lot of plays through him to get other guys shots. You see how efficient he is, we did a good job of getting shots for him.
"But every game he's getting five, six assists. Tonight was just an awesome night where he ended up getting a triple-double, but he'll have a lot more games like that in this system because a lot of our stuff runs through Jo, especially with D. Rose being out."
If Noah can continue playing the way he has, it's a good bet he makes his first All-Star team this season. That would be a big accomplishment, but Noah is taking pride in a more team-oriented revelation. Slowly but surely, in a year without Rose and Hamilton for large chunks, the Bulls have still found a way to improve.
"It feels great to play well and to win," Noah said. "Everybody's happy right now. I feel like we're getting so much better as a team. Even against the elite teams in the NBA we feel like we're competing against everybody."
22hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
23hJason McCallum, ESPN Stats & Info